During the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) patriotic stationery—illustrated letterheads and envelopes—was widely used, particularly for letters to and from the battlefront. These envelopes are known to collectors as “patriotic covers.” However, the first picture-backed government-issued postal cards were produced in Austria-Hungary, and the images depicted the Franco-Prussian War. Nearly three million of these cards sold in 1870.

The popularity of postcards began to decline during World War I. At the time, many American companies had designed their own postcards, but they had been shipped to Germany or Austria for high-quality and low-cost printing. Even English publishers, like Raphael Tuck and Sons, had their cards printed in Germany or Austria. Thus the Great War, beginning in 1914, disrupted the production of cards. Plus, the somber mood created by the conflict made postcards seem like disrespectful frivolities. In 1918, the postage rates for postcards doubled, and after the war, telephones became the preferred means for staying in touch.

Even so, U.S. manufacturers began to produce their own cards around 1915. These were much lower in quality, as lush lithography was replaced by half-tone process printing, and they generally had a white border. But the war was a compelling reason to send postcards across the Atlantic in both directions, as soldiers and their loved ones exchanged updates via post. Wartime postcards most often depicted military leaders, officers, and soldiers, as well as explosions and bombed-out buildings.

In Europe, the war was all-consuming, resulting in a plethora of propaganda postcards which solidified the divide between “us” and “them” on both sides. “Positive” proganda cards rallied both the Allies and Central Powers to fight “For King and Country.” On the other hand, “negative” propaganda cards were designed to ridicule and belittle enemies.

Central Powers postcards asserted the superiority of German people and technology and the inferiority of the Allies. In such comic cards, the Allies would be subjected to a demeaning type of punishment reserved for children or dogs. Even the German mythological figure Michel, who represents the laid-back and gentle side of the national character, was depicted as an aggressor. The Allies would often be portrayed as animals that did not deserve human respect.

Some of the most powerful anti-German propaganda postcard sets were produced by Italian postcard artist Tito Corbell, who made an important series of cards telling the story of nurse Edith Cavell, who was killed by German soldiers. Collectors, however, tend to favor Corbell’s more lighthearted work, like his images of glamorous women.

In England, the Bamforth publishing company, known for its mildly risqué “seaside” cards, produced many mocking and emasculating cards against the Germans. British historian G.M...

The most beautiful cards made during World War I are known as “silks.” French and Belgian refugee women would embroider designs on silk—usually incorporating British, French, and American flags—and ship them to factories to be trimmed and mounted onto postcard backs. These were tremendously popular with American and British soldiers stationed in France; it’s estimated that more than 10 million were produced before they died out in 1923.

Some of these postcards had flaps so that a tiny printed greeting card could be slipped between the silk and backboard. Generally they lack postage stamps because they were sent in Military Mail pouches at no charge to the soldier.

Silks were different from “linens,” a new kind of postcard that emerged post-World War I, made from an uncoated card stock that had a fabric-like texture and tended to feature garish colors. During World War II, as in the first world war, servicemen could send postcards home for free. Postcards became an important and easy means for soldiers to connect with their families, wives, and girlfriends back home, a quick way to let them know, “I’m still alive and thinking about you.”

Naturally, postcards were used for propaganda during World War II. Many of these propaganda postcards were relatively innocuous, sent within the U.S. and to and from soldiers, cheerleading the war effort. Evidence also suggests, though, that “black” propaganda postcards were used by the U.S. as a part of psychological warfare.

The Office of Strategic Services put out postcards that appeared to be German in origin, using real German postcard images and German wording that opposed Hitler and the Nazi Party, intended to suggest there was a strong anti-Fascist underground movement. Documentation indicates these cards were printed at a press taken over by the Morale Operation department of the OSS. As these cards were likely destroyed by the Nazis, they are extremely rare; only a few examples are known to exist today.

But for loved ones back home in America, the most popular kinds of cards to send to the boys overseas are what are known as “arcade postcards” or “girlie cards.” Based on the pin-ups of Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran, George Petty, Alberto Vargas, and others, these images of sexy ladies were meant to cheer up and provide a well-earned diversion to war-weary soldiers.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



Andreas Praefcke's postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide. Showcases 3700 images of over 1810 … [read review or visit site]



This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]

Tall Tale Postcards

Tall Tale Postcards

Don't let this one get away from you. This 'unbelievable' collection, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, featur… [read review or visit site]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Mikes Tanks

Mikes Tanks

Mike Seeber’s extensive collection of over 500 diecast tanks and military vehicles, dating back to WWII. Browse b… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

German Wwi Military Dog Hospital For Messenger Dogs Photo Postcard1903: Chinese-russian War, Pp Showing Russian-british Incident On Railway TrackWw1 Anzac Troops At Anzac Cove Gallipoli 1914-18 Rp PostcardMilitary Mexican Border War Yaqui Indian Girl A Revolutionist Rppc Postcard Ca 1Hmas Sydney Ii, Real-photo Postcard, At Gibraltar1906 United Confederate Veterans Annual Reunion Post Card ( New Orleans , La )Rppc Wwi American Soldiers P.w.e. Co. 237 In Talmont France 1919 A.e.f. W/ IdIreland Civil War Military 1922 Dublin Gresham Hotel Used Post Card Historical1906 United Confederate Veterans Annual Reunion Post Card ( New Orleans , La )Wwii American Flag & Swastika Flag-may Our Glorious Flag And This Lucky StarComical Military Postcard By Saroukhan Wwii On Active Service Egypt 'kangaroo'Rp- 1917 Battleship U.s.s. Oklahoma-served Wwi-sunk Pearl Harbor. Censored StampRare Adolf H. Post Card World War 2 Third Reich German Leader Great Cancel!Great World War 2 German Third Reich Leader Adolf H. Propaganda CardNew Barracks Limerick Postcard C1919/20 Royal Welsh Fusiliers SoldierHmas Albatross, Real-photo Postcard, Australia To England 1938 CruiseAnzac Australian In Ww1 Lieut S. Mcswiney 6th Inf. Br. 1914-18 Rp PostcardJapan Russia Russo Japanese Warship Navy Battle Original Postcard War VaryagPhoto Album Nazi U-505 Sub Capture Post Cards And Chicago Dry Dock PhotosWwii Italian Special Military White Alpini Forces Sul Cappello PostcardCanada Australia India South Africa Wwi Ww1 War England Propaganda 1915 PostcardItaly Fascism Submarine In The Floating Dock.cancel Ship Idria. Postal StationerPostcard Civil War Monitor & Merrimac Battle, Jamestown Exposition 1907Rppc~april 1914~mexican Revolution Federal Soldiers~veracruz,mx Tampico Affair3 Oversized Postcards German Ww Ii: 2 Show Medals, 1 Zweibrucken DecoTasmania - Hobart Fleet Procession - Ww 1 - C Southey 23Lot Of 100 Wwii Military Aircraft Postcards 50 Varieties 15c Each Mint Unused Russia Postcard China Sino Russian War 1900 Harbin Kharbin Amur RiverU.s. Submarine At Full Speed Ahead / No.11 American ColortypeWw1 Wwi Silk Postcard ~ To My Dear Mother ~ Purple Iris ~best Wishes From FranceWw1 Wwi Silk Postcard ~ To My Dear Sister ~ Pink Flowers ~ SentimentalAustralia, Visit Of United States Fleet, With Souvenir MedalJapan Russia Russo Japanese Warship Navy Postcard War On Board Of The Variag .3589) Ww1 Era Pc Y.m.c.a. Soldiers Club St. Kilda Road, Melbourne, AustralianComical Military Postcard By Saroukhan Wwii On Active Service In Egypt Haere MeiComical Military Postcard By Saroukhan Wwii On Active Service Egypt 'souvenir'2 Oversized B&w Postcards: German Ww Ii; One Posted, One UnpostedGermany, S.m.s. Mars. , Etc. German Krieg FlagRppc Of Quentin Roosevelt & Airplane - Kia Ww1 - Teddy Roosevelt SonWwii Japan War Art Pc Aleutian Islands Campaign Pacific War WarplaneWwii Japan Army Pc "sink Enemy Aircraft Carrier" Warship Pacific War WarplaneAsc Miltary Wagon Ww1 Interest - 1914Ww1 Wwi Postcard ~ Anzac ~ 3rd Australian Hospital Dartford 1917 ~ Red CrossV2427 China Tsingtau Military Buildings PostcardWounded Belgian Soldiers In Brighton Hospital 1919 Real Ph.pc1911 Old Japan Japanese Postcard Imperial Navy Battleship Settsu Launching #45Military Ww1 Raf Royal Air Force Pilot Robinson Victoria Cross Real Photo 191610-17 Ww2 Japan Military Propaganda Vtg Pc,wang Jingwei China Entry Into The War1936 Philippine Army Military School Camp Allen In Baguio 2 PhotosWw1 Comic Postcard 1914 1918 Anti Kaiser - Allied Armies Theme3 Real Photo Postcards Of Warships, UnidentifiedLot Of 15 Vintage Real Photo Postcards: Spalato, Russian, France, EtcHmcs Niobe Canadian Navy 1st Warship 1911 Halifax PpcFisher's Hill Battlefield Virginia View Of Famous Stone Bridge Antique Pc Z4943Comical Postcard By Saroukhan Wwii On Active Service In Egypt 'not On Its Neck'Comical Military Postcard By Saroukhan Wwii On Active Service In Egypt 'sphinx'Comical Military Postcard By Saroukhan Wwii On Active Service Egypt 'old & New'Loading The Six-inch , Etc. . / G.l. Thompson, New York U.s.s. Missouri , Etc. / Jamestown Expo.,